Policy Update
Vermont Receives Innovative Medicaid Waiver for Mental Health Care

On Thursday, Vermont became one of the first places in the U.S. to receive approval from CMS to allow Medicaid reimbursement for inpatient stays at free-standing Institutions for Mental Disease (I MDs). Vermont was granted an amendment to its “Global Commitment to Health” Medicaid waiver which will allow the state to receive Medicaid reimbursement for inpatient stays at the Brattleboro Retreat and Vermont Psychiatric Care Hospital for Medicaid patients between the ages of 21 and 64.  

This is a vitally important advancement for our patients, because this waiver allows Vermont to preserve its current mental health system of care capacity. Without this waiver, Vermont would have to phase down funding for the Brattleboro Retreat and the Vermont Psychiatric Care Hospital. Phasing down Medicaid funding to these organizations would  have devastated Vermont’s inpatient treatment capacity.
 
Under the new waiver, Vermont must achieve a series of milestones to support outpatient psychiatric care (many are already achieved) and maintain a statewide average length of stay of 30 days among Medicaid beneficiaries served at IMDs. Vermont’s current IMD length of stay is approximately  16 days on average. Reimbursement is not available for forensic psychiatric stays nor stays that exceed 60 days. VAHHS is working with a policy firm and with the state to develop options that maximize reimbursement options for these ineligible populations.
 
VAHHS provided public comment in support of the IMD waiver at both the state and federal levels. VAHHS also assisted the state in the waiver application by providing data to show that Vermont would be successful in achieving the requirements of the waiver and providing clarification to early drafts. We look forward to ensuring the effective and successful implementation of the waiver and ongoing efforts to fortify and optimize our mental health delivery system. 

In the News
Vermont Should Join Nursing Compact, Regulators Say
Vermont Public Radio

The Vermont Secretary of State's Office of Professional Regulation will ask lawmakers to pass legislation next year that allows Vermont to join the Nurse Licensure Compact. Registered nurses from the compact's member states — there are currently 34 — can work in any of the other states without getting a new license.

The Office of Professional Regulation recently published a survey that went out to all of the registered nurses that have a Vermont license.

Among all of the nurses who answered the survey — who live both in and outside of the state — about 59% said they supported joining the compact, while about 25% said they opposed the move. When looking just at respondents who live in Vermont, about 53% of them were in support of joining while about 33% were opposed.

"The results really do show that Vermont’s nurses are interested in the compact,” said Lauren Hibbert, the director of the Office of Professional Regulation.

Health Department launches cannabis public education campaign
Vermont Business Magazine

Vermont is ranked as one of the healthiest states, but Vermonters have one of the highest rates of marijuana use. Now that it’s legal in the state for adults 21 years or older to possess up to one ounce of cannabis, the Department of Health has launched Let’s Talk Cannabis, a web resource of science-based information aimed at increasing awareness about cannabis and how it affects our bodies, minds and health.

Let’s Talk Cannabis offers facts, tips and actionable resources for several audiences, including youth and young adults, people who are breastfeeding, parents and health care professionals.

“With changes in the legal landscape surrounding possession and use, it’s important that people understand how it can affect their health,” said Health Commissioner Mark Levine, MD. “As with all substance use, consumption of cannabis can be unhealthy. Let’s Talk Cannabis gives Vermonters the information they need to make safe and informed choices.”

Southwestern Children’s Department receives art donation
Vermont Business Magazine

The Women’s and Children’s Services Department at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center (SVMC), part of Southwestern Vermont Health Care (SVHC), received a donation of four framed posters and one work on canvas from internationally recognized visual artist Susana Aldanondo.

Aldanondo creates abstract expressionist and conceptual art, along with art for children. She studied at The Art Students League of New York, Hunter College in New York City, and at Nord University. Her work has been featured by Art Market Magazine, Artbest/Artweek, Artscope Magazine, Chaleur Magazine, and SeeMe and has appeared in exhibits worldwide. She believes in helping others and dedicates a portion of her work and time to help charitable organizations dedicated to the service of those in need.
Fanny Allen cancels all December surgeries to investigate mystery odor
VT Digger

Operating rooms at the Fanny Allen hospital in Colchester will be closed through December and planned surgeries will be rescheduled following a second report of an exhaust-like odor causing staff to become ill. 

Patients with planned surgeries will be contacted “as soon as possible” via phone by their provider’s office to reschedule operations at the UVM Medical Center’s main campus in Burlington, the hospital announced in a press release Wednesday.

“We understand that rescheduling a surgery is inconvenient, and we apologize in advance to any patients who may have procedures moved,” interim president of UVMMC Dr. Steve Leffler said in the statement.

While the operating rooms are closed, hospital staff, assisted by the Vermont Occupational Safety and Health Administration and an outside environmental consultant, will conduct a more thorough inspection of the rooms to determine the cause of the odors.

Hospital officials still do not know what is causing the odor. Officials have also maintained that no patients were affected by the odor that has caused more than 20 staff members to seek medical treatment. 

Local health care providers return from annual mission trip to Guyana
Newport Dispatch

Hearing Dr. Veronika Jedlovszky speak of a recent mission trip to Guyana, it’s clear she has a true passion for the medical profession, and a deep desire to help people.

At the end of October, Dr. Jedlovszky, along with recently retired doctors David Alsobrook, Denise Niemira, Nurse Practitioner Betsy Hartman and practicing physician Dr. Joyce Dobbertin of Lyndonville, made their annual trip to the small country of Guyana.

Guyana is a country on the northern mainland of South America, and the region they visited is the true jungle region of the country.

A 12-hour trip up a river following their flight led them to the now-familiar region, as some of them have made this annual excursion four or even six times.

With medical personnel divided into teams of three, every day they visited different villages, and each provider saw an average of 50-60 patients per day, for medical care, basic procedures and gynecological exams.

Corporators gather for Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital annual meeting
Vermont Business Magazine

Over 150 Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital (NVRH) Corporators and community leaders attended the organization’s annual meeting at Northern Vermont University on Tuesday, Dec. 3. The meeting, which marked the end of NVRH’s 2019 fiscal year, highlighted organizational achievements from the past year and featured remarks from NVRH CEO Shawn Tester, NVRH Board Chair Tom Robinson, and the Executive Director of Lumunos Clinicians Wellbeing Services Doug Wysockey-Johnson. The meeting also included election and re-election of Corporators and trustees for the St Johnsbury-based hospital.

In the opening remarks, Robinson noted exciting future endeavors, including plans for meeting the community’s after-hours and convenient care needs. He also introduced incoming Board Chair, Jane Arthur, and commented on increased engagement at quarterly Corporator meetings.

Tester summarized highlights from the hospital’s fiscal year, including the opening of Northern Vermont Center for Sleep Disorders, new peer recovery coaches in the Emergency Department, a name change for the Philanthropy Department, addressing workforce challenges, workplace well-being initiatives, and The 99 Faces Project – a traveling art installation currently located throughout the hospital that destigmatizes mental health challenges.

Tester then shared stories about his family and their experiences with NVRH over that past year, acknowledging that it had not been an easy year for him.

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